We are putting the final finishing touches on another year at Yellow Medicine East. As we approach graduation for our seniors, it gives us as a school district a chance to reflect on our successes and learn from our mistakes, much like our graduates do. YME provides a vast array of opportunities for our students, but unfortunately, with our enrollment and student needs, we must always examine where to focus our efforts. Oftentimes, our efforts are measured by how fiscally efficient we can be.
From life’s experience, I can tell you that whether it be a family, business, government entity, or a school, budget decisions can be especially difficult. Consider your own personal budget and priorities - do I want to go out for dinner, is that cup of coffee really worth that much, can I really afford a new car, will borrowing money for school make sense, should I splurge on that movie? All of these decisions are difficult and like everyone, there never seems to be enough money. The above decisions can oftentimes pale in comparison to when we make decisions about people’s employment when we know the people personally or it involves a program we feel passionate about.
This spring Yellow Medicine East is in the precarious position of making tough decisions in order to balance its budget. Schools, like other government entities, never seem to have enough money to do all of the important work we want to do and this year is no exception. We are faced with a challenge in trying to preserve as many staff and programs as we can because we believe that we are in the people business and relationships are essential to our success. Compounding our issues is the declining population of our community and school enrollment, that is happening in most rural areas.
The real question is - is it a revenue or an expenditure issue? Minnesota school funding is based upon enrollment and in the past few years, YME’s enrollment has continued to decline. Therefore, we generate less funding. And, like nearly all other businesses and entities, the majority of our expenses are related to personnel. We are saddened by the loss of programs and staff. But, we must continue to establish priorities to use our resources effectively.
In the past, we have had the luxury of a variety of programs and very low class sizes. But, we are now forced to decide what programs should be our greatest priority. Each year we examine what our enrollment is, our needs in terms of providing a strong foundation and a solid core of opportunities for our students all the while finding specific courses that our students want to take to prepare themselves for post-secondary opportunities. Specifically, at the high school level, program offerings are based upon a variety of factors. We must keep in mind that with the educational opportunities available to students now in our state, we are directly competing with both post-secondary institutions and online providers. So, if we see a number of students taking a course online, we weigh whether that is something we can offer in our “brick and mortar” building because that also increases the likelihood that they will take other courses at our high school.
Schools must remain agile in their approach to offering courses. For example, right now we see needs in the area of trades based upon information about available jobs and careers. Put simply, students do not always need a four-year degree to be successful after graduation. This is a shift from the past few decades when the mantra was “college for all.” I would assert that it should be - “training for all” because some levels of training involve certifications in specific fields. We need plumbers, carpenters, electricians, farm laborers, welders, and a host of other trade-oriented workers. But, we need to reach a balance because we do need professionals such as lawyers, doctors, nurses, business professionals, and definitely teachers. The greater YME community has many of those opportunities right here locally. We want our students to stay in this area in order to help us fill all of those fields.
So, as we send our graduates out the door and welcome in new students for next year, I hope you all will join me in celebrating what we have going for ourselves in rural Minnesota and specifically in the Yellow Medicine East School District. It is truly a great place to live and raise a family.